Monday, December 30, 2013

2013: A Reader's View

I do this every year. Readers like to talk about what they read and I'm no exception. I ran a review blog for a few years, but wound it up earlier this year to do this instead and I also found I was starting to enjoy reading less when I had to think about what I was going to say in a review.

Although this isn't a review blog I do still read and I sometimes want to share my thoughts with others. In honour of that penchant I thought I'd write about the things I most enjoyed reading in 2013.

People may notice that these books weren't all released this year. This is a list of the things I most enjoyed reading and it's not meant to be representative of the genre, just my own personal taste, so it's not a best of either. I don't do it in any order as such. There are 5 entries this year.

Without further ado, here we go:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

This extraordinary novel first came out in 2011 and it was on everyone's lips at the time. It took me a while to delve deep enough into the TBR pile to actually read it. Once I did I wished I'd done it sooner. I believe it started life as a Nanowrimo project, although the published work was considerably revised from the original concept.

The Night Circus is written wholly in present tense, despite the fact that its narrative moves back and forth over a number of years. It's lyrical and enchanting. The descriptions of the food and acts and seasons are so atmospheric that you can smell and feel them around you as you read. Its not a book one reads, it is a book one experiences.

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M. Valente.

Cat Valente's Fairyland books started as a fictional concept she mentioned in her novel Palimpsest and became a web publication then were published more widely.

They've introduced an entirely new audience to Cat's books and her marvelous writing. Cat performs magic with words and the adventures of young September in Fairyland far away from her dreary home in post WW II Nebraska are enchanting as she meets up with her old friends like the marid Saturday and the much loved Wyverary (a cross between a wyvern and a library) A through L (better known as Elle).

A word of warning about this the 3rd instalment in the series, it ends on a cliff. However Cat's always been good about getting new ones out and they seem to come along on an annual basis. They're a yearly event I always look forward to.

Poison, Charm & Beauty by Sarah Pinborough.

I know that technically this is three books, not one, but they're all quite short and they really do go together as one book broken into three parts.

What Sarah Pinborough did here was take the stories of Snow White (Poison), Cinderella (Charm) and Sleeping Beauty (Beauty) subvert them wickedly and put them out as this delightfully sexy, funny and dark fairytale. She also managed to get a few other fairytales in there along the way, there are appearances by Aladdin, Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast to name a few.

There are far worse ways to while away a few hours immersed in this delightful story. The best retellings I've read since Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber.

The Milkweed Triptych by Ian Tregillis.

Okay, I'm probably cheating again by naming all three books under the one heading, but I can't help it. To me these aren't separate books. They're one broken into three parts for the convenience of marketing. It's also fairly important in this case to note that it's a triptych and not a trilogy. A triptych is usually a work of art that is separated into three panels that when unfolded form one story and that's the case with Milkweed.

The three books are in order: Bitter Seeds, The Coldest War and Necessary Evil. They all take place in an alternate WW II and Cold War setting and move back and forth through time. There are elements of fantasy and science fiction in them and while it sounds quite bizarre it all comes together seamlessly at the end.

It contains one of the most amazing and complex villains/heroes I can ever remember encountering and Gretel will stay with you long after you've closed Necessary Evil.

How this was plotted I will never know, but it was a brilliant achievement from beginning to end. If I could nominate it every year from now until a number of years into the future I would. It's that good.

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch.

Oh come on! Everyone knew this was going to make the list. How could it not? Was it worth the wait? Some think not and while it has it's flaws they are few and far between, and I thought it was something that I didn't mind waiting for. The rereads of the earlier books in the series only improved them for me.

I did a proper review here.

Hopefully is enough of us vote for this we can get Scott a Hugo and although there has been talk that we will see the 4th book in the series (The Thorn of Emberlain) in 2014 I can remember hearing similar things about The Republic of Thieves, so I'm not holding my breath there.

This Book is Full of Spiders by David Wong.

The final book on the list is one of the first I read for the year. In 2012 I encountered a bizarre book called John Dies at the End. This Book is Full of Spiders is the sequel.

While it's a sequel, it contains the same characters and shares a setting with the original, both books are self contained.

Like its predecessor it is a huge amount of fun and while narrated by David and having plenty of John in it this is Amy's book and I love it for that. It's also misnamed. There are indeed space spiders from another dimension in it, but at the heart of it This Book is Full of Spiders is actually full of zombies and it's a zombie novel. If you don't believe me read it and you'll have more fun with zombies than you ever believed possible.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Obligatory Christmas Post

I realise the title makes me sound a bit jaded, but I'm truly not. I love Christmas. I also love Easter. I want to post here more often, I really do, but this is a busy time of year for everyone and you just never seem to have as many hours in a day as you want. I've also had problems thinking up an E for Realmspace. I've got one for Shattered Chaos, but I don't think it's good form to start talking about the third book when I haven't finished introducing people to the first one.

Christmas in Australia is different. For one it's summer. Many of us still try to pretend it's the middle of winter, but that's kind of hard when the mercury hits 40 the way it did the other day. The day itself is promising to be fine and that will be nice for lunch outside and to let the kids outside to run around as kids like to do.

I'd like to wish anyone and everyone who has peeked into this place a very Merry Christmas and hope Santa brings you everything you wished for.

I'll be back just before the New Year at the latest to update you with how I saw the year as a reader with my favourite reads of 2013. Until then, Cheers!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

D is for Dancer

A bit of a letdown from Nanowrimo, the start of the Christmas season and summer as well as Test cricket kind of conspired to keep me from posting over the last week and a bit, but now I'm free and clear and thought I'd go back to the Realmspace dictionary.

Now D could stand for nothing else other than Dancer, as he is the hero, central character and narrator of Realmspace.

He's not actually the oldest character in terms of when he was created. I think that honour still goes to Aleanaes and that's kind of fitting really, when you consider her role as a Benefactress and as Dancer's mentor in many ways.

Dancer made his first appearance as a rather generic elf as the central character in a short story I wrote as a teenager, when I was still marshalling ideas and getting up the courage to try another novel.

He was a very different sort of character then. He looked much the same, short, slight, dark hair, although he did have the pointed ears of an elf, something that the current model doesn't have. He was also mute, preferring to express himself through the medium of dance, which is of course what gave him the name.

Over the years I refined him and added the dark spirit Sneak into the mix. Sneak lives within Dancer and generally only comes out when needed, mostly when the host is under threat. Other refinements were the power of speech. In fact the new Dancer was actually quite mouthy and generally ready with a wisecrack or a snarky rejoinder. He also became a thief of no mean ability.

The alter ego of the bullied teen Darren is a fairly new addition. Darren really only came into being because I needed to anchor the story to a contemporary earthbound setting for a number of reasons and Darren allowed me to do that. This also gives the reader the advantage of looking at the two, comparing them and seeing the differences between the two in both how they act and their contrasting lifestyles.

The character has probably endured for as long as he has because I like him. I think you need to like your main characters on some level. I have to admit I do some awful things to him and I seem to delight in breaking his heart, but I do like him and he's a good person to have in your corner when things get tight and you need an escape plan. Besides if he weren't on the right side there's no way the Gleems would hang out with him.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

30 Days 50,000 Words

51,354 to be exact. I didn't get a cool banner like the one above. I didn't register as such or do the whole thing properly. My goal was to write 50,000 words between November the 1st and November the 30th and I accomplished that.

It wound up being over two concepts. One was Shattered Chaos and I actually managed to complete that on the 27th. It came in at over 90,000 words, which was a surprise, because there were times prior to doing Nanowrimo that I did wonder if it would break the 70,000 word barrier.

How was the experience? It was kind of odd to be totally honest.

I regularly bang out at least 1,000 words a day and I've been doing that for some time now, so it wasn't really a case of making myself write on a daily basis, which I think many people who go in for Nanowrimo are trying to do, it was more about making daily word count.

I did a business course for a couple of weeks in November and that meant my daily counts weren't what they needed to be for those weeks, so there were a few mammoth writing sessions on the weekends and a couple of nights to help me hit the 50,000 word target.

When I finished the novel I went onto a short story which is really concepts for an urban fantasy idea called Foxwood that I'd like to explore. Of course I also need to edit Shattered Chaos.

That's one thing about Nanowrimo, when you know you have to hit a certain number of words you focus on that and you tend to write a lot of extraneous material. I'll lose a few thousand for sure from what I did during Nanowrimo when I go through the book and edit it properly.

I was glad I did it, even though there were times I stressed a little about making word count and that's something I've never really done before.

It was fun.

Having said that I'm back to my 1,000 words now and feel happy about that.